By: Wendy Rhein
I was sitting at my desk, talking to a colleague about what a big week it was going to be – Sam was due to be born later in the week – when I got the call from his birth mother. She was at a routine appointment and was advised to go to the hospital for an immediate c-section. She needed a ride. Could I pick her up?
I leapt out of the chair, grabbed my keys, hugged my colleague and ran out the door. I can’t even remember if I told my supervisor. Not that it would have mattered. Everyone knew I was adopting, everyone in our small community knew that there was a little boy on the way.
We got to the hospital and went through all the check-in procedures. I was familiar with the layout because she and I had done pre-registration the week before. I was vibrating with nerves and excitement, again not sure what my role was, since she was there alone. Her mother would arrive later after arranging care for her 2-year-old daughter. Several hours later, after her mother and sister arrived, she was wheeled away for the c-section. I went to the family room to wait. I prayed, a lot, that she wouldn’t change her mind when she saw his little face. That she wouldn’t change her mind with her mother’s voice in her ear. That he would be ok and healthy. That she hadn’t been lying about drugs and alcohol during the pregnancy. I prayed that I would find the strength and resources to raise two little boys on my own. I prayed. A lot.
Two hours later her mother came out and told me that Sam was born, a healthy baby boy. I made a tearful promise to her that I would take good care of him, that I knew she wasn’t in favor of the adoption, but I was so grateful to her and their family for giving me the privilege of being in his life. She just glared at me, and asked for a ride home.
Never one to miss an opportunity for efficiencies, I willingly drove her home so we would have a few minutes to talk. She asked me about my family, were they ok with raising a black child. (Of course they are, they’re elated.) She asked about my elder son, was he ok with sharing his mother. (Of course he is, he’s elated.) How was I going to work full time with a newborn? (I’m consulting, I can take him with me and also work from home. It’s all been arranged.) By the time she left the car, I felt her defenses drop a little, maybe she was accepting the idea; maybe she was just tired.
I ran home, changed out of the suit I had worn to work earlier in the day, a day that seemed now like a universe ago. I didn’t know what the night was going to hold, but I knew I was going to hold my new son. Time was now being divided into Before-Sam and With-Sam.
When I got back to the hospital, M (Sam’s birth mother) was very upset. They wanted her to breastfeed and she didn’t want to. She did not want the baby rooming-in and the nurses kept trying to bring him to her. They weren’t nice, she said. They didn’t get it. I became her advocate – calling the lawyer, calling the hospital social worker. Reminding her that there was an adoption plan in place and they needed to respect her wishes. Once that was understood and they backed off, she went back to texting her boyfriend and I went off to find my son. Once at the nursery, they dug through her chart to find the adoption plan, verified my identity, and finally, buzzed the security door open. No one knew what to do with me. They promoted rooming-in; they didn’t have rockers or chairs. So they wheeled his little incubator over to the nurses’ station, gave me a swivel office chair, and there I sat, holding Sam, for the next 20 hours.
We got to know each other in that first day of his life – he had his mother’s nose, he didn’t like to be put down, he did not like to be swaddled but rather wanted to keep one hand over his eyes (a trick he still does today when he’s grouchy).
I managed to read a whole book in a day, nodding off a few times between feedings and changings, all while sitting in that uncomfortable swivel chair. I held him, turning the pages with one hand, texting family and friends with one hand, sending pictures of his beautiful face with one hand. I was not allowed to take him out of the nursery and no one was allowed in. It was just us.
The next day preceded much the same. M came down to the nursery to see him once, and sat in my chair to hold him briefly. I have a picture of the two of them. My heart contracted at the sight, my prayers continuing. Please, don’t change your mind. Please.
The evening of the second day in the hospital, it was sleeting and cold outside. The lawyer arrived to do the final consents and get all the documents signed. We were going home. I was exhausted and overwhelmed and incredibly hopeful that we had gotten this far. I waited in the nursery, Sam next to me in his little “leave the hospital” outfit and huge bag of baby stuff from the nurses who had, it turned out, been very kind to me in the 48 hours since his birth. I could not wait to get him home to meet his brother and grandmother, to start our newly expanded family life.
After about 30 minutes of waiting, my attorney knocked on the glass door to the nursery and I came bounding out, expecting to be sent on our way. She brought me to M’s room. M was sobbing. I sat down and the attorney explained to me that M had been lying about the birth father. Not only did she know who it most likely was, but she had told him months before that she was pregnant and wanted to have an adoption plan for the baby. He had told her then that if the baby was his, and there was still some doubt, that he would oppose the adoption. He couldn’t care for the child, but maybe his mother could. M didn’t want that, so she lied. She had told us and signed an affidavit that said that she didn’t know how to find him, didn’t know his last name, and had met him casually. In reality, they had had a relationship, her mother and his mother were friends. Her mother had called the man’s mother that afternoon to try and stop the adoption. Didn’t they want the baby? M’s mother had burst into the hospital room just as the documents were being signed, brought all of the lies to light, and then tried to go to the nursery and take Sam from me. She was stopped by hospital security.
I sat, my head falling into my hands at the foot of M’s bed. I cried. She cried. She told me she wasn’t taking him home, that if I didn’t then he would go to Children’s Services. Her mother had also told her earlier in the day that they were being evicted so she didn’t have a place to go home to herself, let alone with a baby. She wouldn’t. She couldn’t.
This can’t be what is supposed to happen. This can’t be the life he is supposed to have.
My attorney and I went into the hall and she quietly advised me to walk away. If this man was in fact Sam’s father, and his family could make him follow through and sign all the appropriate papers (the family having no legal standing on their own), then no judge would separate father and son, regardless of this guy’s criminal background or his other children or his lack of employment or education. Walk away, she said. If he doesn’t follow through, and it is unlikely, you can get Sam back from Children Services in a month or so. Go home, she said.
My mind was reeling. Go home? Without him? How? How would I explain this to Nathan, who knew that his little brother had been born? I quickly called my mother and my sister. I sobbed to my sister, how can I possibly leave him, alone? I’m the only person he’s seen, the only one who has held him for more than a brief touch. Leave him?
From the outset of this process, many years before, the goal had always been to be a parent, to provide a child with a family and a life. In that moment, I had to decide if those were just words or if I meant it. If I was willing to risk losing him in order to provide him with the best care I could. If I was willing to put myself and Nathan through the real possibility of losing him in a day, a week, or worse, a month. It was too late for me, I was already in love with him, but Nathan hadn’t met him yet. Would it be better to bring him home, let us love him and care for him, and then let him go? or walk away because it was “better” for me?
In my core, there wasn’t a choice. He was my son. I would love him forever and care for him for as long as time and circumstances allowed.
I was taking him home.